Drug uptake pathways of multidrug transporter AcrB studied by molecular simulations and site-directed mutagenesis experiments

J Am Chem Soc. 2013 May 22;135(20):7474-85. doi: 10.1021/ja310548h. Epub 2013 May 14.


Multidrug resistance has been a critical issue in current chemotherapy. In Escherichia coli , a major efflux pump responsible for the multidrug resistance contains a transporter AcrB. Crystallographic studies and mutational assays of AcrB provided much of structural and overall functional insights, which led to the functionally rotating mechanism. However, the drug uptake pathways are somewhat controversial because at least two possible pathways, the vestibule and the cleft paths, were suggested. Here, combining molecular simulations and site-directed mutagenesis experiments, we addressed the uptake mechanism finding that the drug uptake pathways can be significantly different depending on the properties of drugs. First, in the computational free energy analysis of drug movements along AcrB tunnels, we found a ligand-dependent drug uptake mechanism. With the same molecular sizes, drugs that are both strongly hydrophobic and lipophilic were preferentially taken in via the vestibule path, while other drugs favored the cleft path. Second, direct simulations realized totally about 3500 events of drug uptake by AcrB for a broad range of drug property. These simulations confirmed the ligand-dependent drug uptake and further suggested that a smaller drug favors the vestibule path, while a larger one is taken in via the cleft path. Moreover, the direct simulations identified an alternative uptake path which is not visible in the crystal structure. Third, site-directed mutagenesis of AcrB in E. coli verified that mutations of residues located along the newly identified path significantly reduced the efflux efficiency, supporting its relevance in in vivo function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acriflavine / chemistry
  • Acriflavine / metabolism*
  • Acriflavine / pharmacokinetics
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / chemistry
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / genetics*
  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Minocycline / chemistry
  • Minocycline / metabolism*
  • Minocycline / pharmacokinetics
  • Models, Molecular*
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins / chemistry
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins / genetics*
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mutagenesis, Site-Directed
  • Novobiocin / chemistry
  • Novobiocin / metabolism*
  • Novobiocin / pharmacokinetics


  • AcrB protein, E coli
  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Multidrug Resistance-Associated Proteins
  • Novobiocin
  • Acriflavine
  • Minocycline